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Notes from the Test Kitchen: Slow-cooker bread pudding in the oven

January 12, 2010 |  8:00 am

BreadpuddingkirkmckoyWhen we picked our Top Recipes of 2009, one of our favorites was the white-chocolate bread pudding with a whiskey caramel sauce, a recipe from February of last year.

It has all the elements of the classic comfort food: a loaf of crusty French bread soaked in a warm white-chocolate custard, then baked to glorious perfection. Puffy and light with a crisp, toasted crust on top. Oh, and the whiskey caramel sauce was just like icing on a cake.

And it's a simple recipe, really. That is, if you have a slow cooker....

See, I developed the recipe to go with a story I'd written on the resurgence of slow cookers'  popularity. The recipe was just one example of the variety of recipes slow cookers can handle (the slow cooker worked perfectly, baking the custard gently at a consistently low temperature).

Of course, I received e-mails from readers who wanted to know what to do if they didn't have a slow cooker. Could the recipe be replicated in a regular oven?

So we tried it in the Test Kitchen, and I think we came up with a pretty good adaptation. The changes include calling for a 13-by-9-inch baking dish (in place of the slow-cooker insert) and baking (loosely covered with foil) at 325 degrees until puffed and set, about 45 minutes. Remove the foil and increase the temperature to 400 degrees and continue to bake until lightly colored and toasted, about 6 to 10 minutes. The method for that whiskey caramel sauce remains the same.

The revised recipe follows the jump. Enjoy!

-- Noelle Carter

Photo: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

White-chocolate bread pudding with whiskey caramel sauce

Total time: About 2 hours
Servings: 8 to 10

Note: From Noelle Carter. If possible, cut the bread the night before making the pudding to allow the cubes to dry out.

For the bread pudding

2 cups heavy cream

1 1/4 cups white-chocolate chips

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 cups milk

2 eggs, beaten

3 egg yolks, beaten

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 loaf (1-pound) stale French or Italian bread cubes, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 cups toasted pecans

1. In a medium saucepan, heat the cream over medium heat. Meanwhile, place the chocolate chips in a large mixing bowl. When the cream comes to a simmer, remove the pan from the heat and pour the hot cream over the chocolate chips, whisking until the chips dissolve. Whisk the sugar into the mixture, then the milk, eggs, egg yolks and vanilla to form a custard base.

2. Add the bread to the bowl, gently stirring to coat the cubes with the custard base. Set the mixture aside to allow the bread to soak, 45 minutes, tossing every several minutes so the cubes completely and evenly soak in the custard base. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 325 degrees.

3. Toss the pecans into the soaked bread mixture, then pour the mixture into a greased 13-by 9-inch baking dish. Cover the dish loosely with a greased piece of foil. Place the dish in the center of the oven and bake just until the custard is set in the center, 35 to 45 minutes.

4. Remove the foil and increase the heat to 400 degrees. Continue to bake just until the top of the pudding is lightly colored and toasted, 6 to 10 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly.

Caramel sauce and assembly

1/3 cup whiskey

1 1/3 cups sugar

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon corn syrup

1 3/4 cups heavy cream

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract

White-chocolate bread pudding

1. In a small saute pan, pour the whiskey and place the pan over medium-high heat. Gently and carefully tilt the pan over the flame to flambé the alcohol (the alcohol will catch fire). Immediately remove from heat and let the flame continue to burn; the flame will self-extinguish when the alcohol is burned out of the whiskey. Set the whiskey aside.

2. In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup, stirring until the sugar has the consistency of wet sand. Place the saucepan over high heat and cook until the sugar dissolves and begins to boil. Do not stir the sugar, as this may cause it to seize.

3. While the sugar is cooking, combine the cream, butter and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Keep an eye on the sugar while you're heating the cream to keep it from scorching. Cook until the butter melts, stirring it into the cream. When the mixture has come to a simmer, remove from heat.

4. Continue to cook the sugar until it darkens to a rich caramel color, 7 to 10 minutes -- the sugar will darken quickly and noticeably and will smell faintly nutty. Swirl the pan as the sugar darkens to judge the true color of the caramel (the sugar may darken in patches if there are hot spots on the stove). Watch carefully, as the sugar can easily overcook at this point and burn.

5. As soon as the color is a rich caramel, immediately remove the pan from the heat and quickly add the cream mixture in a slow, steady stream. The sugar will bubble and steam as the cream is added; be careful as both the mixture and steam are very hot. Carefully stir in the whiskey and vanilla.

6. Stir the caramel until it stops bubbling, then remove to a heat-proof container until needed. This makes about 2 1/2 cups sauce.

7. When the pudding is baked, spoon generous helpings into warm bowls. Drizzle the whiskey caramel sauce over it and serve immediately.

Each of 10 servings: 1,023 calories; 13 grams protein; 101 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 64 grams fat; 30 grams saturated fat; 242 mg. cholesterol; 423 mg. sodium.